Gangster Squad

With classic elements galore, Gangster Squad delivers the goods. Sean Penn turns in a killer performance as a boxer turned mob boss in mid-20th century Los Angeles. His character is almost cartoonish, like a Dick Tracy bad guy. Josh Brolin, as leader of the secret Squad, is not unlike Dick Tracy, with a Tess Trueheart type wife.

With a hint of the colors of retouched picture postcards and the requisite armada of late 40’s automobiles, Gangster Squad is drenched in nostalgia. The wardrobes (including men in hats), the red lipstick, the smoking, comments about WW II, the music all do a nice job of capturing the era. Josh Brolin’s opening and closing narrations echo another staple of this genre.

Penn’s character Mickey Cohen controls not only vice but also the majority of police and political leaders in metro LA. Nick Nolte, looking healthier than in his other recent roles, is the LAPD chief (not been bought off by Cohen) who anoints Brolin’s character John O’Mara as leader of a secret gangster squad.

O’Mara recruits a team of cops to shut down Cohen and his operations. Ryan Gosling is a cool LAPD detective named Jerry Wooters who successfully hits on Cohen’s babe, Grace Faraday, played by Emma Stone. He eases his way into the squad and becomes a vital team member.

The squad operates almost like the Mission Impossible teams of prior movies and TV shows. They even have a tech guy, played by the nerdy Giovanni Ribisi, who plants a microphone in Cohen’s digs and listens in from a remote shack.

The Gangster Squad and Cohen’s crooks trade punches throughout the film until the last round, when the knockout blow is finally delivered.

Gangster Squad is an entertainingly violent movie that’s not quite a classic, but has all the LA period piece cops and robbers stuff. One quibble is the casting of Emma Stone as the babe. A more mature, less innocent looking actress may have been more effective in the role.

Word is that the movie was originally slated for a September, 2012, release. But because of its violent content (and one particular sequence) was retooled and held back after the Aurora, Colorado shootings. Nonetheless, Gangster Squad is action-packed with great characters, a strong cast and a good story. I’m already looking forward to seeing it again.

“Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol” (Non-Stop Action!)

Tom Cruise and his MI team are on a mission to save the earth from nuclear annihilation. Sounds like a modest proposal, right? But it turns out to be rather complicated.

The team busts Tom (as Ethan Hunt) out of a Russian prison to the accompaniment of Dean Martin’s “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head.” They survive an assassination attempt in Moscow, then head off to Dubai to execute a scheme at the tallest hotel in the world.

You just know that some kind of stunt will involve the risk of falling a hundred stories or more and the filmmaker does not disappoint. This is one of the more exciting sections of the movie. After the scam occurs with partial success, it’s time for the team to go to Mumbai to scuttle the launch of a nuke targeted for San Francisco.

Throughout the movie, you will enjoy chase scenes (by car and foot), gunplay, hand-to-hand combat, a really big sand storm and some cool electronic surveillance. Should you notice any holes in the plot, or occurrences that defy all belief, don’t worry. Just enjoy.

In a genius casting move, Simon Pegg on “Shaun of the Dead” fame, appears as the team’s timid electronics guy. Pegg provides geeky comic relief. Jeremy Renner plays an agent turned “analyst,” whose cover is quickly deduced by Ethan. Paula Patton is the team’s designated babe. She’s gorgeous and feisty, too.

If you can, see this in the IMAX or large screen formats. It’s a big movie and it looks better on the bigger screen. The film is directed by Brad Bird, best known for directing Pixar hits “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille.” As he did with “The Incredibles,” he has delivered more fast-paced action/adventure fun.